Bathrooms of the future
Watching trends in the real-estate market is crucial for homeowners who are interested in remodeling, because a smart upgrade lets you also boost or sustain your home’s value. Spa baths are hot now, and the trend appears to have lasting appeal. It got started 30 years ago, when futurist Faith Popcorn predicted a movement she called “cocooning.” American consumers would desire to protect themselves “from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world,” she predicted. Today, more than ever, we are seeking sanctuary in improvements such as home spas. Plumbing manufacturers are watching the trends — working from home, the demand for high-tech advances and green products, and the yearning for individual expression — and they’re responding with products that profoundly change the humble bath.
Space-age steam shower
While the future is mysterious, one thing’s a given: There will be stress. The newest bath products emphasize in-home spa features, making it possible to relieve stress thoroughly and in privacy. LineaAqua’s Apollo steam shower looks like a personal space capsule: The built-in reclined seat could be an astronaut’s anti-gravity chair. The blue-tinted safety glass and teak accents add to the futuristic look. You set the unit’s controls to manage the electronic temperature and steam generator or just lean back and use a remote to direct six adjustable massaging body sprays and a foot massage feature. Dim the unit’s mood lighting and crank up the audio speaker (the shower has a built-in FM radio and AUX connections for integrating your own sound system).
Tan while you shower
When is a shower more than just a shower? In this case, when it gives you a tan and improves your complexion while you’re washing up. ProSun’s SunShower unit lets you incorporate a tanning unit, including five 400-watt lamps, reflectors and a double UV filter, into a shower. The 8-inch-thick unit can be added to a pre-existing shower enclosure or installed during new construction. Crave more? You can add high-intensity LED infrared light, said to stimulate the skin’s production of collagen and elastin. Units are framed in aluminum, brass or chrome — or in oil-rubbed bronze, to match your skin.
Cost: $10,900 to $17,995.
Bathroom basin, tub and shower faucets designed by architect Jean Nouvel for Jado and American Standard use touch-sensitive electronic controls that let users program — and save — their favorite volume and temperature settings. This shower’s elegant profile emphasizes function and clean lines.
Cost: Jean Nouvel Thermostatic Shower Curtain, $3,130.
Mix up the shower
Did you ever suspect you’d see a digital, menu-based navigation system for a shower in your lifetime? Check it out: The Kohler DTV II performance shower (in satin nickel, satin chrome or satin bronze) lets you mix up a custom shower experience. You use the digital controls to preset the four in-shower audio speakers, six shower heads (with 22 or 54 nozzles, for a rain-forest experience), steam and two hand-held shower wands. For example, choose the steam temperature and time, cue up your favorite tunes from your MP3 player, find the light display to suit your mood (color sequences evoke a sunrise, sunset, clouds and reflective water) and choose settings for the Ambient Rain Watertile shower head.
Cost: $2,000 to $10,000.
The Ondus bath system by German plumbing company Grohe blends organic form with high-tech performance and puts digital control of faucets, tub and shower in the user’s hands. Bathers can preset water temperature and flow rate. Engineering attention has been spent to mimic the flow of natural phenomena like waterfalls and falling rain. Here is the Ondus digital sink faucet (left), the AquaFountain shower system with both wall-mounted and hand-held showers (center) and, in the background, a floor-mounted bath filler, each with customizable, precision controls.
Cost: faucet, $4,199; AquaFountain shower system, $7,999; floor-mounted tub filler, $6,300
Waterproof media center
Some people retreat to their home spas to shut out the world. Others want to bring it in. Make the bath your operations center with the visiPad media station, which gives you access to e-mail, SMS, Internet, telephone, radio, CDs and DVDs. Control the unit with a remote or use the splash-protected touch-screen. Made by Visiomatic, the German maker of integrated electronic home control and entertainment systems, the visiPad is offered in a range of screen sizes, from 10 inches to 46 inches across.
Cost: The complete system about $4,225
Kitchen tech warms bath towels
It’s a rough, cold world out there, which is why your towels must be soft and warm. Dacor, a manufacturer of kitchen appliances, adapted its indoor/outdoor oven warming drawer — the electronic components tolerate moisture — to bathroom use. The 24-inch drawer can be faced with a custom panel to match cabinets or you can use a stainless steel panel. The drawer has four temperature levels and four timer settings so towels will be done to perfection at the moment you need them.
Cost: $1,327 with stainless drawer panel
See that picture on the bathroom mirror? It’s a waterproof, 17-inch wide-screen TV by the British company Aquavision. With the television turned on, the screen is visible from nearly 180 degrees, meaning that you can see it from just about everywhere in the room. The television can be installed above a bathtub or inside a shower or sauna, remaining clear and dry — not foggy, says Aquavision. HDTV is an option, and six screen sizes range from 10 inches to 40 inches.
Cost: about $4,250
TV and warm towels
The Aquavision Towel Rail TV combines two essentials of the bath of the future: warm towels and entertainment. When you’re not watching the waterproof 17-inch LCD television, it is a mirror.
Cost: $4,000 and up.
High-style bath furniture
Another bath trend is to bring the look of furniture into the bath for a clean, uncluttered atmosphere. Lacava’s Aquaplane vanities exemplify the trend with a two-drawer cabinet with a Wenge finish beneath a broad basin.
Cost: Cabinet $990 to $1,190; basin $490; medicine cabinet $835 to $980.
Washing and drying automated
Toto makes several hands-free bath fixtures, including this WI-Touch Hands-Free wireless remote control that lets you operate a faucet without touching it. An electronic valve controller is installed beneath the sink and activated when you touch a remote-controlled sensor or foot pedal. The remote can be placed on the floor or the countertop or installed at knee or elbow level within three feet of the control box. The aim is to minimize the spread of cold and flu viruses and bacteria and also reduce the work of cleaning the sink. The unit (cost: roughly $550) can be installed by a homeowner and used with any standard manual faucet. Toto also makes a recessed Clean Dry Hand Dryer,which the company says is extremely quiet, performs in less than 12 seconds and consumes a quarter of the energy of similar products. Its washable filter helps freshen room air.
Cost: roughly $1,200.
Toto’s “intelligent design” toilet seat uses a microcomputer to unite two traditional bathroom appliances, the toilet and bidet. After using the toilet, you stay seated on the heated digital Washlet seat, which is made of anti-bacterial plastic. Use the remote control unit to direct streams of warm, aerated water onto your body, eliminating the need for paper and reducing the spread of bathroom germs. (Guys use the remote control to lift the seat.) To use the drying cycle, choose one of three temperatures, sending a flow of warm air to dry your skin. The unit automatically self-cleans before and after each use. Most Washlet models have a remote control and docking station and work with any toilet. The premier Washlet S400 is compatible only with select Toto toilets: It flushes the toilet automatically three seconds after the user stands up and its “intuitive” lid closes on its own.
Cost: $800 to $1,400.
Toto was emphasizing water and energy conservation in its plumbing products long before “green” was cool. The newly released Aquia high-efficiency toilet has its tank hidden in the wall for a sleek, minimalist look that the Japanese plumbing manufacturer says was inspired by the lines in nature. The bowl is glazed with a material that helps keep grime from building up. The dual flushing system lets the user choose to use a smaller or larger amount of water used: 1.6 gallons per flush for full flush or 0.9 gallons for the light flush.
Cost: roughly $350 for the toilet and $660 for the concealed tank carrier.
Translucent scratch- and heat-resistant epoxy resin is used in a new line of Toto Luminist sinks and tubs that can be lit from beneath to give bathrooms an otherworldy glow. Water temperature is digitally controlled by a knob on the surface of the sink or tub. A light indicator panel uses color to read water temperature: blue is cold; light purple indicates 93.2 degrees F; dark purple is 100.4 degrees and red is very hot — 107.6 degrees.
Cost: Neorest II Luminist lavatory with integrated sensor faucet $6,200; Neorest II Luminist soaking tub with integrated sensor bath faucet, $17,500.
Massage with sound
Kohler’s VibrAcoustic Bath mixes up the bath experience, adding music and sound vibration to an ergonomic tub to sooth the weary mind and body. A digital control panel lets you select tub level, water temperature and one of four instrumental compositions (Awakening, Solitude, Letting Go and Transcendence). Music is piped underwater through one stereo system and played into the atmosphere through a second. Or choose other massage presets and add your own music by operating your MP3 player through the system. Colored “chromatherapy” lights are choreographed to the music.
Cost: $10,000 to $13,000, including electronic controls
Take off the chill
In the quest to make the bath into a cozy haven, homeowners are installing small, direct-vent natural gas or propane fireplaces. For example, Canadian manufacturer Napoleon reports that any of its direct-vent gas fireplaces can be used in a bathroom. This model, the Torch, measures just 12 inches across and has a shallow firebox that fits nicely between 2-by-6-inch wall studs. It puts out about 6,000 BTUs.
Cost: Suggested retail price starts at $1,608
Diamond Spas‘ Bennett reports a trend toward individual expression in bathrooms. “The shift I see is in aquatic personalization. People are looking for something unique, handcrafted quality and beauty, a bath made by artisans rather than mass-produced, a bath that was made exclusively for them.” City apartment and loft dwellers often choose small, deep Japanese soaking baths that provide a space-saving vertical soak rather than horizontal, she says. This circular, one-person tub, 42 inches around by 35 inches deep, has a bench seat.
“Soaking tub” is a term used a lot for luxury tubs. “Designs vary from a smaller bath with a deeper depth, such as a Japanese soaker, to a large rectangular bath with a body forming contoured bottom,” says Stephanie Bennett of Diamond Spas, a Colorado company that crafts custom stainless steel and copper tubs to buyers’ specifications. The tub pictured here is a contemporary, oval, full-skirted soaking bath designed for two: 42 inches wide by 72 inches long by 24 inches deep. It has a midcontoured bottom with a sloping reclined area at each end for relaxing face-to-face conversation.